Tambo will be remembered as one of South Africa's
key heroines of the liberation struggle.
The nursing sister from Vereeniging, who married
African National Congress (ANC) president
Tambo in 1956, died on January 31 2007 aged 77 and
will be best remembered as a beacon of hope to many
exiled activists during the liberation struggle.
Born in a township outside Vereeniging on July
18 1929, Adelaide returned to South Africa in 1990,
30 years in exile since the ANC banned.
"We've come back to a country where there's been
no improvement in our people's lives. The future of
the country is in our hands. Let's take up the
challenge," she said soon after her return home.
Adelaide, a veteran freedom fighter in her own
right, was brutally introduced to politics at the
age of 10 after a police raid in Vereeniging. Her
ailing 82-year-old grandfather was arrested and
flogged at the town square where he collapsed.
"I sat with him until he regained
consciousness," she recounted.
"His brutal and humiliating treatment at the
police's hands was the triggering and deciding
factor. I swore I would fight them till the end."
At the age of 15 she approached a local ANC
organiser to enrol as a member.
"The organiser said I was too young to become an
ANC member but since I was so keen to be politically
active he agreed to let me act as a courier for the
By the age of 18, Tambo had joined the ANC Youth
League and was immediately elected chair of her
She met her future husband at the launch of a
new youth league branch and their friendship
developed over the next few years.
proposed to her in 1954, but she only
agreed to settle down two years later. Three weeks
before their wedding Oliver
was arrested and charged
with 155 other ANC members, including
Mandela, for high treason.
The wedding went ahead four days after the
trialists were released on bail. The trial lasted
for more than three years, ending in the acquittal
of all the accused.
Adelaide was one of the 20 000 women who marched
Buildings in protest against the
pass laws in 1956.
left South Africa after the Sharpeville
massacre in 1960 and she followed a few months
later. The couple were eventually re-united in
"But I soon had to realise that he was now fully
involved and that my role was going to be to take
responsibility for the family."
She worked as a nurse to support the family as
travelled. The couple spent only the first
three years of their marriage together and again in
the twilight of
"We got married and we both realised it
would be an unusual relationship. Sometimes
he would pass through London only twice a
Adelaide had to earn a living, so she
often worked in old people's homes at night,
locking up her children when on duty.
The Tambo's London home became a base
for many exiles and students who sought
refuge while in Britain.
She founded the Afro-Asian Women
Solidarity in Egypt, was a member of the
All-African Women's Congress and a member of
the International Anti-Apartheid Movement.
She was recipient of the Noel Foundation
Life Award for initiating the anti-apartheid
movement in Britain.
Adelaide led the anti-apartheid movement
in London and was in the forefront of
demonstrations calling for
and that of other political detainees.
She also managed to collect all of
Oliver's speeches which she later published
Adelaide was the first recipient of the
Tambo/Johnny Makatini freedom award
in February 1995. The award recognises the
faith, courage and sacrifice of an
individual during the freedom struggle.
As a campaigner for human rights,
Adelaide was also awarded the Order of Simon
of Cyrene in July 1997 for her active an
outstanding and untiring commitment to the
Anglican church and disadvantaged
communities. The order is the highest honour
that can be bestowed on a lay person by the
Church of the Province of Southern Africa.
On her return to South Africa in 1990,
Adelaide made a home for herself and
who died in April 1993. She was also active
in re-building the ANC Women's League.
She was elected to Parliament for the
ANC after the country's first democratic
elections in 1994, but decided not to serve
a second five-year term.
Although she and Winnie Mandela were
one-time close friends, Adelaide led the
resignation of 11 members of the ANCWL's
national executive in protest against
Winnie's leadership and problems with donor
In 1996 Adelaide was injured in a car
accident after a truck collided with her car
in Sharpeville. She suffered a fractured leg
and underwent a two-hour operation.
After her retirement from active
politics, Adelaide was engaged in community
work with elderly people in Benoni, her
marital hometown. She also worked with - as
she preferred to call them - differently-abled
children in Soweto.
Asked how she would like to be
remembered Tambo said: " As a servant of my
She is survived by three children, Tembi,
Dali and Tselane and several grandchildren.
(Source: SAPA 2007)